Fighting Fire with Fire

Monday, April 24, 2017

KKL-JNF carries out controlled burning in Biriya Forest

KKL-JNF foresters are constantly engaged in nurturing forests, caring for trees and fighting fires in order to keep Israel green and beautiful. As part of the organization’s preparations for the summer heat and the forest fires it brings, woodsmen in the north have been carrying out controlled burning in Biriya Forest to facilitate control of wildfires. Although this method appears contradictory, its objective is the same as always: to ensure the safety of the forest.

Dr. Omri Boneh, Director of KKL-JNF’s Northern Region, explained: “Controlled burning diminishes the quantity of flammable material in the forest, and thus reduces the danger of fire and slows the spread of the flames. In other words, we are fighting fire with fire.”

Biriya Forest, which extends over an area of around 21,000 dunam (approx. 5,250 acres), is the largest planted forest in the Galilee region. This varied stretch of woodland comprises orchards, lush vegetation, springs and historical and heritage sites. Although it is composed mainly of Jerusalem pine (Pinus halepensis), KKL-JNF has varied this composition by adding Calabrian pine (Pinus brutia), Canadian pine, Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) and pistachio (Pistacia vera) to the mix.

The controlled burning was carried out along the firebreak created by KKL-JNF to divide the eastern part of the forest from the western part and provide access for firefighting vehicles in times of emergency. KKL-JNF foresters used flamethrowers to set fire to dry branches and vegetation that were cluttering the ground. The slope and the wind helped the flames to spread, under careful supervision and control. KKL-JNF firefighting teams were standing by at the site with two fire trucks at the ready in case the flames should spread beyond designated limits.

Throughout the operation, Eli Hafuta, a KKL-JNF forester in the Biriya-Hazon area, accompanied the workers, showing them where to set fires, where to allow them to spread and when to lower the flames. “Fire is every forester’s nightmare, and so naturally it feels a bit strange to be setting fires inside the forest,” he said. “But we know that the controlled burning we carry out in springtime can save the forest from a huge conflagration in the summer.”

Birya Forest is an attractive venue for nature lovers from all over Israel who come to visit this green area of the country and enjoy the beautiful scenery. With the help of its friends worldwide, KKL-JNF has equipped the forest with recreation areas, scenic routes and lookouts, footpaths and cycle trails, and many of its sites are accessible to visitors whose mobility is limited.

In recent years the forest has been damaged by a number of significant fire outbreaks, and around 25 acres worth of veteran trees aged sixty years and over were burned about a year ago. After three consecutive years of very sparse rainfall, the forest is dry and at high risk, especially as summer approaches. Now, perhaps, thanks to this spate of controlled burning, the next fire can be prevented.

Dr. Boneh explained that controlled burning is just one of the strategies available to combat forest fires, and he enumerated a number of the additional measures adopted by KKL-JNF for this purpose: firebreaks to prevent flames from spreading; access routes to facilitate the swift arrival of fire trucks; tree thinning; grazing of flocks to reduce the amount of flammable material in the forest; and additional fire-fighting equipment, provided with the help of KKL-JNF’s Friends throughout the world.

“Together with our colleagues from the United States Forest Service, we began to make use of controlled burning already twenty-five years ago,” said Dr. Boneh. “Research carried out in conjunction with academic institutions in Israel examines the effects of controlled burning on the quantity of flammable material in the woodland and on the spread of forest fires.”

While the burning was in progress, emergency hotlines received numerous telephone calls from concerned citizens who, seeing the flames, had called in to report the fire to the emergency services.
“This is an example of the importance of raising public awareness of the need to conserve the forests,” said Etti Azulai of KKL-JNF Northern Region's Public Relations Department. Schoolchildren who happened to be passing by likewise expressed their concern, and were glad to learn that the fires were deliberate and under strict control.

For a number of hours the forest floor continued to burn all the way along the edges of the firebreaks. The flames consumed flammable material that, had an uncontrolled forest fire broken out, would have been liable to endanger the entire woodland. As the afternoon progressed the flames began to die down, and only the clouds of smoke that continued to loom over the forest and the smell of burning wood and scorched earth remained as evidence of what had taken place.

The firefighters remained at their posts to ensure that the fires did not flare up once more. Omri Boneh climbed to the top of the hill and surveyed the surrounding area. “Now the woodland is safer than before and it will remain green and beautiful for the benefit of the public as a whole,” he concluded with satisfaction at the end of a successful operation.